Sunday, July 3, 2011

How and Why I Decided to Self-Publish, and What I Expect Will Happen When I Do.

I know, I know. Those of you who know me really well, those of you who interact with me a lot on AW or who even just read my posts from time to time, surely know that I have a dim view of self-publishing, to put it mildly. You are probably picking your jaw up off the floor and looking at the calendar to determine whether we have collectively time-warped backward to April 1st.

Take a moment. Collect yourself. Then read on. I think this all makes sense, even coming from me, and so will you when you’ve read through this long post. Actually don't read through this long post. Page-down and read through only those sections (headed in bold and all-caps) which interest you. Because this blog post is a goddamn tome, my friends, and there's a lot of stuff here.

First, let me make this clear: I am NOT considering self-publishing Baptism for the Dead or any subsequent literary/contemporary novels. I am ONLY considering self-publishing my commercial historical fiction. I’ll tell you how and why I decided to look at this option with serious intent, what I expect the outcome to be, and why I am not (at this time, anyway) considering self-publishing the rest of my writing.

Read on, mi amigos.


First, let me apologize for making such a long post. I am going to do my best to make it organized and easy to read, but this decision is the result of complex circumstances and I feel I need to explain them: not to justify the decision, but rather to help manage the expectations of others who are considering self-publishing and who may find my decision process useful. (More on managing expectations later.) It’s a lot to discuss, and I didn’t want to take up scads of space here discussing it in multiple posts. This way, all comments stay in one thread, and the rest of my blog resumes with its usual topics without turning into Libbie’s Self-Publishing Blog. That’s not what I want this space to be.


If you know me as a writer at all, you know that I have been rather outspoken in my opinions of self-publishing. Such opinions generally are, to say the least, not very high. (And from here on out, when I refer to self-publishing I am speaking of fiction. There are plenty of good reasons to self-publish nonfiction, and lots of wonderful self-pubbed nonfiction titles out there.)

I am going to be blunt here – brutally blunt and viciously honest, because I want people to understand how much thought has gone into this decision. I believe most people who self-publish don't think about it much at all, although they may believe they have considered it carefully. I don't think that's the case with me. I've carefully weighed all sorts of options and I've even carefully examined my mostly-negative feelings about self-publishing. Honestly, truly, I still think most of what is self-published is crap.

When I say “most,” do I mean sixty percent? Seventy-five? No, I mean about ninety-eight percent. If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have said ninety-nine percent. A year before that, ninety-nine-point-nine percent. Self-publishing is full to bursting with writers who can’t string together words, let alone sentences, who don’t seem to understand that their stories make no sense, and who think their MS Paint-created covers look as good as covers designed by professionals at traditional publishing houses.

Self-publishing is still mostly the realm of the impatient, the clueless, the non-reader, and the entitled. I'm sorry to be so cruel, but I worked at a book store which bought used books from the public, and you would really not believe the number of self-published books I saw every day. I don’t have this opinion without reason. I’ve read – or tried to read – a lot of self-published stuff. More than most people ever will in their lifetime. So far, it hasn’t been a positive experience for me.

However, since the advent of portable e-book readers, I really have seen a glacially slow shift in the quality of self-published works. Even Libbie the Self-Pub Curmudgeon has had to admit that things appear to be inching upward out of the absolute morass. Amazon’s launch of its self-pub-for-Kindle feature has attracted some talented authors whose work has real merit. Before this service, they may have been more inclined to take the independent/small press route, but that route, too, has its pitfalls, and for some of these authors producing one’s own books is more attractive.

And every day it seems we learn of one more career novelist with an out-of-print backlist who chooses to make his or her older works available as e-books. So there, too, we have some genuine talent shifting the tide of crap ever so slowly in the opposite direction.

There is no doubt that e-books and e-readers have played the biggest part in initiating this lethargic sea change. They provide instant gratification and low cost, so that a reader can take a risk on an unknown or self-published author without dropping any substantial amount of cash. Also of importance are the rise of book-review blogs and reader-review sites like Amazon’s active ratings community and, the book-oriented social networking site. Even Facebook has been useful to the independent- and self-published author, as these social resources have made word-of-mouth easy, and the right kind of buzz can sell anything, even a self-published novel.

With all these changing forces acting together, I believe the time is coming when self-publishing will not be utterly overwhelmed with crap. I also believe that such a time is still relatively far off, and that many kinks need to be ironed out, and many trails need to be blazed. The light of legitimacy is on the horizon, but it’s still a distant horizon.

At this moment, in the summer of 2011, I feel certain that traditional publishing is still going to provide the best financial outcome for all but the tiniest handful of authors. I feel certain that this will remain the case for a long time yet.

But events in my own fledgling writing career have also made me feel certain that there are particular instances when self-publishing fiction just might work out better. After much consideration, I believe some of my novels may fall within the boundaries of sensible self-publishing fodder.


Even in my most strident criticism of self-publishing, I have always been careful to point out that there are certain times when self-publishing makes sense, and may even be smarter than trying to publish traditionally.

When does it make sense to self-publish?

-When you have a book that appeals to a niche audience rather than to a wider audience.

-When you only want to make your book available to a small number of folks (a book of your grand-dad’s stories, for example, self-published so your extended family can enjoy them and pass them on to their kids.)

-When you don’t care terribly much whether that book is successful; when you have reasonable expectations from the venture and aren’t deluded into thinking you will make a livable wage from self-publishing.

-When you expect to put many hours and possibly many dollars into promoting your book consistently and intelligently, and when you expect to get small financial returns, if any, from this investment of resources. Essentially, when you can afford, psychologically and physically, to make it a hobby first and a potential money-maker as a distant second.

And here’s the rub: You have to have written a good book. Ultimately, nobody will give a pinch about your work if it’s not good. It needs to be quality stuff. Really quality stuff. It needs to be as good as any book with a traditional publisher’s imprint on the spine. It might need to be a little bit better, just to overcome its built-in stigma of being self-published.

If you’ve tossed off a careless book full of needless errors or if you’ve written a rambling fever dream that nobody but you can relate to, let alone understand, then I’m sorry to break this to you, but not even your family and friends who buy your book will enjoy it. If they read it all the way through they will tell you how much they liked it, but nobody actually appreciates a poorly written story.

Bottom line: if you don’t have a really good book to self-publish, polished and groomed and fully matured, then you shouldn’t waste your time or, potentially, your money. You will not be successful, no matter how you measure success.


A little over two years ago I called my first historical novel finished, queried just under sixty carefully researched agents, and after a few partial and full requests (and lots of rejections), I accepted representation from a new agent at a well-respected, major literary agency.

I was ecstatic. I was over the moon! I was certain at the time that I wanted to build a career on historical fiction (which I absolutely love to read), and I felt my novel happened to come at just the right time. My novel is set in ancient Egypt, and in the previous couple of years a new historical novelist had published two well-received novels also set in Dynastic Egypt. Plus, my novel dealt with Hatshepsut, and her mummy had just been positively identified. The Egyptology world was buzzing over the She-King. Hatshepsut was even making appearances on NPR and other news outlets with regularity. I thought the timing couldn’t possibly be better.

My first agent was excited, too. She was the perfect agent for this book: a big fan of ancient Egypt and enthusiastic about my writing style and the story we had to sell. After we worked together to edit the book, it went on submission to an impressive list of imprints at the Big Six and at independent presses that are known for producing quality historical fiction.

The rejections rolled in, but it was hard to feel bummed out. All but one editor who rejected the book shared enthusiastic praise for this or that feature of the book, and that made getting rejections fun! Some editors loved the story, but felt that it was too close to books already on their list. Others complemented my writing style in terms that made me speechless with happiness, but felt that the tone of the story wasn’t quite right for them. Still others thought it was a good read, but were concerned about the main character’s age at the beginning of the book. Did the fact that she was thirteen when the book opened make it a better candidate for the YA category? And if so, would I be willing to totally rewrite the book to tone down the sex scenes and make the prose, pacing, and conflict more accessible for a YA audience? (After discussing with my agent, I decided it was better not to rewrite the novel to make it YA, and I am still glad I stuck with my gut on that front. I have never been averse to major revisions of my work and I love to receive criticism, but if I’d turned it into a YA novel it wouldn’t have been my novel anymore.)

One editor at a major house turned down this book but asked me to submit whatever else I was working on so they could consider my works in progress instead. High praise indeed, although they didn’t end up offering any contracts.

When we had exhausted the best historical fiction imprints, my first agent and I discussed what we might do next. We agreed that perhaps this book just wasn’t a “first novel” – too hard a sell – and that I ought to get the next Egyptian novel I had planned finished as soon as possible, try to sell that one first, and offer the other as a prequel if a publisher showed interest.

That’s when life sprang its ambush.

I had just begun my divorce when my first novel went on sub, and by the time we reached this point, eight months later, life was getting rocky. No matter how hard I tried to work on historical fiction, I found that I had no desire for it at all. Trying to work on the Egyptian novels had become miserable torture. I can’t explain this. The escapism should have been welcome amidst all the crap I was dealing with in my personal life. Instead, every time I opened the documents I felt hollow.

Meanwhile, I was writing with great passion on a new novel, a contemporary/literary piece with the working title Baptism for the Dead. With that book, I found that writing came easily and that I was producing work so pretty it would wrack me with chills every time I read it – after the hundredth time I’d read it – and I was writing this stuff without any struggle at all.

I agonized for a few weeks over this. How could I have decided to finish and sell that second historical novel yet be so compelled to write this new work, which was so unlike what I’d been drawn to just a few months before, and, more ominously, which was so unlike the work my agent had signed up for?

After weeks of fruitless attempts to stay in Egypt I finally arranged a phone meeting with my agent, explained my predicament, and like magic, a solution presented itself.

My first agent and I parted ways.

She had made the decision to move to a different agency that focused on commercial fiction, and it was clear that my career path had changed. In the wake of my turmoil-laden marriage and divorce, I had reassembled myself as a contemporary writer with a strong literary bent, and my work wouldn’t fit in well at her new agency. She recommended I stay on at the big agency where I was now, and she would arrange to hand me over to another agent there. She was and is an excellent agent, who always puts her clients’ needs first. I was happy to work with her and I felt good about the way we parted.

My second agent took over, and right away I was impressed with her, too. We had a phone meeting to discuss where I saw my career going. She was more interested in YA than anything else, and I am not a YA writer. But she did have some interest in adult literary fiction, although she hadn’t yet tried to sell any. She agreed to give Baptism for the Dead a read when it was done and, if she felt she was the right agent to sell that work, she’d get started on it. If she didn’t feel she was the right one, or if I didn’t feel she was the right one, we agreed that we, too, would go our separate ways.

In the meantime, I gave her the Egyptian books (the completed one and the partial one), figuring I might as well give her a shot at them; they were just taking up room on my hard drive. She read through them and had some excellent suggestions on how to improve them, but she expressed doubts that she could sell them as-is. Not because they weren’t good books, but because of the darn protagonist’s age again.

We discussed some possible fixes to this problem that could anchor the entire work more firmly in the realm of adult fiction. It was a great conversation – she, too, is a fantastic agent – but ultimately I decided not to put the time into changing the manuscript that much. I just didn’t care enough about making the Egyptian book(s) a commercial success.

I was still most drawn to Baptism for the Dead. If I was going to spend a lot of time restructuring and obsessing over and losing sleep over any book, it was going to be Baptism, not the Egyptian novels. By now, it was clear to me that I had no expectations at all that I would ever build a career on historical fiction. I am still a fan of the genre, but when I thought about my career to come, I saw it built on books like Baptism, not on books like the Egypt novels. Baptism was and is my passion. The historical novels were good – editors at big houses had said so – but they weren’t my future.

And at the same time, I felt vaguely annoyed at how tightly compartmentalized the industry has become over the past decade or so. Since Harry Potter and Twilight, YA has become such a financial behemoth that anything – anything that might slide into that category must. Somewhere between Harry’s patronus and Edward’s sparkles the traditional publishing industry decided that adult fiction can’t have young protagonists, that adult readers won’t appreciate stories with younger characters – and this in spite of the fact that everybody knows more adults than teens read Young Adult fiction.

None of this made any sense to me, especially when adult historical novels with teen (or younger) protagonists have remained in print and revered for decades. I saw that the publishing industry truly thought an adult novel couldn't have a young protagonist, and that such a position made sense with their post-Twilight business models. But I knew that readers of historical fiction wouldn't balk at a young main character. I was seeing a large and unfortunate disconnect between the industry and the people it serves.

Around roughly the same time as this realization about industry compartmentalization hit me, my second agent, too, moved on to a new agency, and I opted to leave my agency as well.

In part, I left because doing so freed me up to play around for a few weeks with all the options I face with my commercial historical fiction. Once I am locked into another agency contract for my literary fiction, I may not be able to experiment with the historical at all. Most agencies represent a writer’s entire body of unpublished works, and the right agent for my literary fiction probably will not be the right agent for my commercial historical fiction. Once Baptism for the Dead finds the right representation, my Egyptian novels will sit on my hard drive for eternity, unless I get them out into the world first.

So here I have ended up, at a point where I have a good book, confirmed as good by several industry professionals, just taking up space on my hard drive, being enjoyed by nobody. It’s burned through nearly every historical imprint worth a hill of beans, and can’t go on submission to too many more editors. It probably appeals to a niche market rather than a wide audience, since apparently the young age of the protagonist will give some folks pause – and anyway, the 18th Dynasty of Egypt is not as familiar to the average reader as the Amarna period or the Ptolemaic period. So this really is a novel that’s more likely to be a hit with hardcore Egypt nerds and women’s history buffs than with the beach-reading fans of the Tudors or Asian history. Although it’s a good book, I don’t feel any deep attachment to it, and I don’t want to be a career historical novelist anymore. My future lies with other categories of fiction; I am certain of that now. So if this book were to bellyflop into the mudpit of self-publishing, I wouldn’t be dismayed.

Sure looks like a good candidate for self-publishing success to me, according to all my own self-pub standards.


I’ve bandied this idea about self-publishing the Egypt books with my good friend Lori. We’ve talked about it off and on for a few weeks.

Lori encouraged me to go the small-press route before self-publishing, because there is still such a nasty stigma surrounding self-publishing (and not undeservedly so in the majority of cases – see my section above titled WHY THIS ANNOUNCEMENT IS STARTLING….)

Lori is a talented, hard-working, exceptionally prolific author of romance, erotic romance, and erotica who has more than twenty novels published or contracted with several different small presses, some of which produce e-books exclusively. Lori is really enjoying working with these presses, and I’ve watched as she very quickly built up a large and enthusiastic fan base. She’s doing well. There’s no doubt that small presses are a smart move for some authors.

However, after spending a few weeks checking into them, I don’t think they’d net me any more success with my historical fiction than I could achieve self-publishing, and I can see why, in this case, self-publishing would be a smarter move for me.

Let me explain.

Small presses have been a great boon to fans and authors of erotic romance and erotica. Those genres have taken off like crazy since e-books became a big part of the scene. There are quite a few specialty small presses catering to these readers. However, I couldn’t find many small presses that publish non-romance historicals, and the ones I could find seemed disappointing. Their cover art looked unprofessional and their web sites were confusing enough that I had a hard time believing I could rely on them to produce a quality product. (See? Presentation is EVERYTHING!)

I did find three independent presses to which my Egyptian novel hadn’t already been submitted, and that also seemed to produce a product I’d be proud to put my name on. However, two of them were closed to fiction submissions for at least six more months. By then, I hope to have a new agent for my literary fiction, and it could be too late to do anything with the historicals.

This issue of presentation is so crucial. That means cover art. I worked in a book store hand-selling books and I am an avid reader. I know – you know, reader – that presentation matters enormously. And to be honest, a lot of the small presses out there are putting covers on their books that are just as embarrassingly bad as many self-published covers. Given that a professional appearance can be a serious factor in whether a reader chooses Book A over Book B, why would any author submit her work to a press that didn’t understand the importance of a clean, modern, appealing presentation?

The small-press options for romance and erotica are, fortunately, robust. They’re even quite good for literary fiction. For non-romance commercial fiction, I’m afraid they are quite paltry indeed. If I self-publish, I will have control over how professional my book looks. And while I can’t do as good a job as a pro employed by a major traditional publisher, I can do a lot better than some of the covers I’ve seen on many small-press web sites.

Additionally, as I already have a completed novel that has gone through a few different editing phases with industry professionals, my book is pretty close to “ready to go,” although I will, of course, give it a few more passes before self-pubbing it. I could release the book in a matter of weeks and start seeing a small (likely very small) income months sooner than if I went with a small press.

Which is a nice segue into the next section…


I think it’s vital to manage one’s expectations when it comes to self-publishing. Let me be very, very clear here: SELF-PUBLISHING IS NOT LIKELY TO BE A BIG INCOME EARNER. I don’t expect it to be, even though I have a good book, even though I have what I believe is a smart plan to promote it. I think the people who make any appreciable income at all with self-published works – and by that I mean somewhere between $2000 and $5000 per year (as of 2011 it’s unlikely to earn you more than that) are the authors who are offering their out-of-print backlist as e-books. The traditionally published authors, in other words.

Manage your expectations.

Yes, there are one-off cases like Amanda Hocking, but she had a phenomenally good gameplan from the start (self-publish a large body of work all at once, so she entered the scene with a built-in backlist…and then spend eight to ten hours per day promoting that backlist.) Most of us don’t have that many novels written yet, and most of us can think of anything we’d rather do than spend ten hours a day doinking around on the same old blogs talking up our books. I imagine that gets old remarkably fast, and Ms. Hocking was probably pleased as punch to hand that duty off to the publicists at St. Martin’s. After all that time spent doing boring self-promotion, she was probably excited to get to mow her lawn, fold laundry, and deliberate over produce at the grocery store. Most of us don’t have the concentrated drive Ms. Hocking has.

There will always be one-off cases. The Amanda Hockings of the world should not be held up as expectations for your own success. You will probably not be that successful.

Manage your expectations.

So how successful do I think I can be? Eh – successful enough to feel good about my book. Successful enough to feel pleasure over the fact that some Egypt nerds really had a great time dorking out over my take on the 18th Dynasty. I think that with a healthy dose of smart self-promotion, scheduled weekly so as not to interfere with my work on Baptism for the Dead and my subsequent “serious” novels, I can reasonably expect to sell around 2,500 copies in a year. Depending on how I price my products (yet to be decided) that will likely translate to about $5000.00.

A little extra spending cash for me to blow at Anthropologie. Not a writing career. Most of what I’ll get out of this experience will be the fun of bringing my cool book to the wee niche market that will really appreciate it.

Manage your expectations.

Don’t get me wrong: I love money, I want to make a lot of it, and I fully expect to live off my writing some day, preferably someday soon.

But I do not expect to reach that goal by self-publishing. That’s not why I’m doing it. I still feel strongly that real financial success comes from a solid contract with a Big Six or a major indie publisher, negotiated for maximum efficacy by a kickass literary agent, who will also sell foreign rights. As of the summer of 2011, it still doesn’t look like any other path is likely to get me (or you) to my goal of rolling around in a pile of writer-money.

Manage your expectations!


In a word, promote.

In an earlier section I mentioned how the social networks have boosted small-press and self-published books. That’s entirely because of the power of the buzz.

I used to run a wedding photography business, and I got over 90% of my new customers from one reception site that absolutely loved my work and referred ALL their new clients to me. I impressed them, and because they were genuinely impressed, their enthusiasm for my work convinced their clients to become my clients before they’d ever spoken to me.

I want that kind of buzz for my self-published book.

I feel confident that I have a book that’s good enough to impress some reviewers with some popular blogs. I’ve done my homework; I know which blogs I want to hit. I know what they like. I know what they expect from their reading experiences. I am targeting my book to these reviewers just as I once targeted it to the agents I queried. I think I can impress these reviewers enough that they’ll sell my book for me, just by loving it and telling their many readers how much they love it.

I am going to harness the power of the social network to achieve my goal of 2,500 copies sold in a year. It’s a reasonable goal, and my product is good enough to set that ball rolling right from the beginning. I will let the reviewers do the work for me after a few weeks of concentrated effort. Once I’ve lit the fuse I’ll sit back and let Mark Zuckerberg do the heavy lifting, and I’ll hope that I was right about how long a fuse I needed.

But I’m managing my expectations, here. Remember that my book was good enough in the first place to get me into a major literary agency, and then it impressed editors at big houses enough that they gave me very encouraging, even flattering, personal rejections.

I’m not bragging here – I’m trying to help you, reader, manage your own expectations. I’ve received outside, professional reinforcement from multiple sources that my book is a good one. Have you? Are you starting with a high-quality product, from content to packaging? Where has your feedback come from? How knowledgeable are your test-readers, and how honest will they be with you? How much do you know about editing? Have you ever worked with an industry professional to edit a book? What does your cover look like? What message is it sending to the person who holds that book in her hands?

All this is important. It really is.


1) After re-polishing the book and sending it out for critique to a few more test readers, I will use a POD service to print up some nice ARCs.

2) I will contact several historical novelists (all of them working with traditional publishers) whose work I admire and politely ask them to review and blurb my book, explaining that it is a self-published novel, and BRIEFLY (I can hear you laughing) explaining how I came to self-publish it. I will not have expectations that any of them will actually blurb it – it’s self-published, after all, and everybody still believes with good reason that nearly everything self-published is terrible.

3) I will add any blurbs I am fortunate enough to get to my front and back covers, which will look as good as anything you’d pull off the shelf at Barnes & Noble.

4) Four weeks before the release date, I will start sending out copies to review blogs and to the biggest reviewers of historical fiction on Goodreads and Amazon’s reviews community.

5) Four weeks prior, I will also step up the web presence for my self-pub pen name, making “her” become alive and vibrant and interesting.

6) I will seek out opportunities to do interviews and give-aways on blogs.

7) On the release date, I will have some fun contests and give-aways planned on my pen name’s blog, which will hopefully bring in blog subscribers.

8) I will continue to blog weekly under the pen name for at least twelve months, because that’s how long I’ve given myself to reach this goal.


This is an experiment, really, isn’t it? That’s what it looks like to me, too. I am doing this in large part because I’m really curious where e-books and self-publishing might go in the next decade. I can see it flagging and dying back into the morass of impatient/entitled crapola, and I can see it turning into a real blossoming industry full of glorious gems just beneath the surface of the mud, easily scratched up and treasured. Either option seems equally likely at this point.

I am very motivated to give this a try just to see if my suspicion is right, that if one starts with a quality book and if one treats it with respect and enthusiasm, and if one takes advantage of social networks, and if one understands the publishing industry enough to manage one’s expectations, one can achieve a reasonable goal.

I will make some prediction now:

I think in twelve months, I will exceed my goal of 2,500 copies sold, but not by a whole lot.

I think my Egyptian book will develop a fun little fan following among the hardcore devotees of ancient-history novels. I think it will be genuinely enjoyed by a niche of readers.

I think I will make a little more than $5,000 off the book during the course of a year, which will be about what I could have expected to make from a small press.

I think e-book sales will outstrip trade paperback sales by a significant amount.

I think I’ll have fun with this experiment, and I’ll be proud of the results.

I think I’ll be way more proud and have way more fun when I find the right agent to represent my serious novels, my life’s work, and I think I’ll build a career off those via traditional publishing.


As you can see, even if you didn’t read this groaning colossus of a post and you only skimmed around reading the headings that interested you (for which I do not blame you), I have put a lot of thought into whether to do this, why I might do it, and how I might attain my modest success.

But what about the downside of self-publishing? I’ve thought about that, too.

What WON’T I get if I self-publish, that even a small press might have done for me?

Foreign sales. I can reach an English-speaking audience, but not all that many populations in the world speak English. A working author makes a good chunk of his annual income from foreign sales, and I have no means of securing those if I self-publish. That is a pretty big minus.

I’m also giving up first rights to this book – another very important part of the publishing puzzle. If I still wanted to build a career off of historical fiction, I wouldn’t consider ruining the first rights to this book. Even if it’s a “hard sell” and “not a first novel,” it could be a second novel, or a fifth, or a fifteenth.

First rights are valuable in the traditional publishing world, and by self-publishing, I am kissing them good-bye. That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever self-publish my “serious” fiction – the stuff I want to turn into a viable career. Even if Baptism for the Dead doesn’t sell initially, it may sell later, after I’ve sold a few others yet to be written. But it won’t sell at all if I axe its first rights.

And I am giving up a pretty significant chunk of my free time – also nothing to sneeze at. I’m fortunate in that for the next six weeks or so I’ll be able to spend several hours per day working on design and promotion without cutting into my writing time for Baptism for the Dead. If working on self-publishing were to take away any amount of time from writing my career-builders, I wouldn’t do it. The career-building fiction is far too important to me, and there are only so many hours in a day.

So there it is, folks – my very long and honest thoughts on self-publishing, why and how I decided to do it, and what I think will happen once I do.

Now let’s see if my predictions come true!


  1. Somehow appropriate that I read this post on Independence Day. A long post deserves a long comment, so here goes:

    You've obviously put a great deal of thought into this decision (as you should) and have what looks to be a solid plan in place for promotion. If you stick to it -- and have indeed written a good book -- you have a pretty good chance at success. How did you arrive at a goal of 2,500 in terms of sales? Is this based on the book-buying habits of a known-population of 'Egypt nerds,' or historical sales of self-pubbed, historical fiction? I'm curious how you arrived at that figure.

    Regarding the 'stigma' of self-publishing: I haven't read any self-pubbed work myself, but I've certainly seen the low regard a lot of AW'ers have for it. Do you think this attitude/expectation that 'self-pubbed=crap' is shared by the average reader? If Average Reader picks up two books by unknown authors, is he more likely to buy the one that says 'Random House' on the spine?

    I wish you well with this, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out going forward.

  2. Hey, Jeff! I didn't even realize it was so close to Independence Day when I wrote this post...ha ha!

    I arrived at the goal of 2,500 by looking at average yearly sales figures of a few different small-press authors (those who have made these numbers public and those who were willing to disclose them to me.) I got an average of 2,000 in my small sample, and I upped it by 500 because I figured part of my yardstick for success would be to see whether I could do a little better than I might expect to do by going with one of the few small presses that handles historical fiction.

    I absolutely do think that readers feel the same way about self-published work. I think just about all the AWers who dislike it do so because of their experience as readers. And after working at a used book store, I saw how the self-published stuff never moved. I still think that is mostly due to poor presentation -- if you don't put your product in an attractive package, it's not going to be picked up at all. Readers can tell just by looking that there is a difference in the quality of presentation between self-published work and traditionally published. E-readers have helped dim that difference a little, but not by much.

    My biggest stumbling block will be designing a really good cover, but I think my experience as a wedding photographer working with Photoshop every day will give me a big leg up on that hurdle.

  3. Libbie, I'm in somewhat of the same boat you are. I have an agent, and I hope that one day soon I'll be published by one of the biggies. I have a novel my husband has been telling me I should self-publish...the agent isn't really interested in it, and I don't think it has all that wide of an appeal, so it would never sell to a huge audience.

    But I've been considering the self-pub route. I read over my little book and I still think--hey! this is pretty good. I think there are some people who might like to read this.

    So I'm getting my ducks in a row and slowly moving toward getting it out there. I don't have very high expectations for performance...if I can sell 5 copies to complete strangers, I'll be fainting with excitement. Of course, that's not to say that I hope it sells more.

    I hope you keep posting on your experience with this, because I'll be interested to see how the whole process goes.


  4. Yes, I'll definitely keep the world posted on how it's going and what methods of promotion have been successful, etc. Although I'll do it at the other blog for my alternate self-pub pen name, which I'll post here when I've got some content on the blog. I will be very forthcoming with my numbers, my plans of attack, etc. I'm not only doing this because I know there are some Egypt nerds out there who really want more Egyptian fiction, but also because I think we need more people approaching self-publishing in an experimental, planned-out way. Too many people do it impulsively and with little planning or organization, and their results are predictable. So I'll definitely make the whole thing easy to follow.

    And I have to start soon, because my literary novel will be finished soon, and I want to get an agent for it ASAP and hopefully get that sucker sold. (I've been working on it for 18 months now, so I'm eager to get it sent off somewhere.) Once I have another agent it's not likely that I'll be free to self-publish anything.

  5. Followed from your AW thread and I just want to say, Libbie, this is awesome. I'm excited for you and look forward to hearing how this goes!

    I'll be bookmarking this as a reference for talking to people about realistic self-publishing in the future. You've asked all the right questions, and even better, you have answers you're satisfied with. That's beyond cool.

    Congratulations! I wish you all the best. (And I'll be sure to send my Egyptian history buff friends your way.)

  6. Hey, J.S.

    I'm glad you found the super-long post useful. :) I hope I'm asking all the right questions and finding smart answers. I guess time will tell! At least I feel good about the chances I gave my historical fiction in the traditional sphere. I feel certain that my agents were both very good at their jobs and did their best, and I truly do think this book fits that slender profile for self-publishing success.

    Most don't. Most writers jump into self-publishing because they got ten rejections or because the only thing they see in working with an agent is the agent's commission. That kind of attitude betrays a lack of knowledge of the industry, and self-publishing/independent presses ARE part of the industry, if you want to sell your books to readers. If you don't know how book creation and book selling work, don't self-publish.

    At least I feel my eyes are wide open, and I think that puts me a big step in the right direction to attain my goal.

    (By the way, for people who read this thread wondering if they ought to self-publish, my goal of 2,500 would be a miserable performance at any of the larger independent presses and certainly at a big publisher. There, your sales are expected to be in the five-digit numbers or higher. That I'm starting with a good book that's been professionally polished and praised by editors at Random House, Penguin, etc. and setting a goal of only 2,500 tells you how difficult it is to overcome the stigma of self-publishing.)

  7. Appreciate the answers and analysis, Libbie. I definitely think you are 'managing your expectations' appropriately.

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  10. Wow Libbie,

    This is hands-down THE most thought out game plan I read for an author planning to self pub.

    As an Egyptian and an "Egypt nerd" ;) I'm glad they'll be another Hatshepsut book out there soon. I wish you the best of luck :))